In college I learned what it was to struggle physically during grueling workouts with the team’s trainer. I have played on an organized softball team since I was five, and all counted that was 16 years of my life devoted to the sport. So in college, I spent hours either on the field, or in the gym preparing.
Our athletic field-house was inside the main arena housing the competition basketball courts at the time I attended and played for Western Michigan University. The equipment room ran along the edge of the building and was where our softball clothes were cleaned. We would gather our game and practice gear all on a giant metal clip, each item of clothing with my number, number 3, written on all tags as to ensure my clothes came back to my locker. There was a training room where injured athletes learned to recover. I have had the pleasure of dipping my room temperature feet into a freezing ice bath in that room helping to heal sprained ankles. There was a small pool for athletes to run against a current for rehabilitation as well as countless other gizmos and gadgets galore. An indoor track raced around the edge and provided ample space for torturing us with sprints. The weight room was tucked under the stadium bleachers. It was of modest size at the time, but big enough for you to feel crushed after the workout enforced upon you by the certified trainer. Then, just the basketball court, many hoops and the stadium seats.
We always looked like a team. We had practice uniforms, weights t-shirts and shorts that were all in uniform, and of course our game gear. All year long we had assigned training sessions as to organize all the teams to have ample time to gain the strength needed to win. This particular day was no different than any other. The softball team, all wearing the same gray shirts with WMU Softball written across our chests and the same stock black baggy gym shorts prepared first with a light jog and guided stretching. This day, unknowingly, would be one of the hardest workouts I had ever completed.
After our team stretching, the trainer brought us to the basketball court and lead us up the stairs to the second set of bleachers. We had never yet run this set of bleachers, but we knew exactly what was happening next.
The directions were to run, in a single file line, up each set of stairs on the left, and come down that set of stairs on the right. Then, we’d run across the bottom, passing the set of seats in that section the next stairs. Now, in the center of the stadium, the seats went very high. Along the sides, though, the seats were only 10-15 rows deep. I was looking forward to those rows!
We arranged ourselves a bit by speed before starting because passing would be challenging, and we started. I was behind like five or six girls and felt pretty strong. It only took 3 or 4 vertical climbs for me to feel not so strong. I was still running and I was gaining on one or two girls in front of me, but this was a much harder task to complete, than to look at from the comfort of the starter line.
My hip flexors couldn’t lift my legs up any longer. Each stair began to appear taller and taller. I missed reaching a step or two causing me to stumble, grab the railing only to hear, “Gats, hands off the railing” from my very attentive trainer. Coming down the mountain of stairs was challenging for different reasons; one little stumble and down you’d go. Knees took a beating and my heart was pounding out of my chest. I passed one girl on a straight away and I was right behind another teammate on our decent of stairs who I was able to pass as well. I was feeling very proud of myself getting through this burning sprint around the stadium. I looked up coming into the last few tall sets of stairs and only had 3 girls in front of me. That was pretty darn good. As the pride gave me courage to go faster, I then took another glance ahead as some of my teammates were pulling into the finish line. Why is Nicky still running past our trainer? As I asended the stairs wondering what she was doing, I talked myself into her being a crazy runner and this was something she wanted to do. It was only on my turn that as I decended the steps I could see all those in front of me are being sent to run it again.
I had just done all the sport cliches. I had laid it all on the field. I had given it my all. I gave 110%. I had nothing more to give. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought, “I can’t do this.” “I just gave all my energy to be as fast as I could during this round.” “My knees are toast.” “There is no way I can lift up my legs enough to do it again.”
Yet, as I approached my coach, he simply said, “Do it again.”
And so, I did. I carried every sense of doubt with me on this run. I worried I was going to trip and fall. I thought I didn’t have the strength. My confidence was shot and my will was all used up. I just kept moving. I took one step at a time and just kept moving. This time, passing wasn’t the motivator, each single movement was a triumph. Each single stair up or down was an accomplishment. But I was going to keep moving until I was done. Each stumble, I grabbed the railing, “Gats, off the railings” was shouted from below, and so it went. On my own. One stair at a time.
Until, it was over.
We all lay collapsed at the end. Each girl gasping for air. Laying on the ground. Sweat pouring from our faces. We had no air to verbally congratulate one another, but as we walked past the finishers for our own area to lay defeated we gave high fives signifying a job well done to our teammates.
As more girls finished, some of us were prepared to stand and welcome them past the finish line. And soon, a mass of players cheered on the few who were left on the battlefield to help them know it was possible.
Our bodies are capable of so much more than we give credit to. Our mind often is the culprit of holding our bodies back. We think we cannot, when we actually can. We think we should quit, when we have so much left in us. We are afraid of the distance or the cold or the heat and so we don’t even start.
If we want to be healthy. If we want to survive. If we want to be grandparents to our yet to be born grand children, we need to have strong mental health to even begin to talk about obtaining strong physical health. The mind must be conquered first.
Without my trainer yelling, “hands of the rails”, and commanding me to “run it again”, I need to find it within me to push my limits to find my physical health. I can do this by being aware of my mind and mental state. I can actually watch my brain as an observer as I talk myself out of a run. I can then choose to abide by the fear and/or laziness, or I can tell that part of my mind to “get off the rails.”
This 2020, don’t let any goal down! Get your mind right first and you can do anything! And then, you can do it again.
BOOK LISTS: My favorite genre of books, is that of survival. Laurence Gonzales’ “Deep Survival” is a favorite. Tim Ferriss’s “Tools of Titans” is great. “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air” by Krakauer are iconic. And I am starting “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney. These books mesmerize me with their proof of the ability of the human body.